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Growing Demand for Biomass Could Create a New Commodity Market

Wood fuel, one of the oldest energy sources on the planet, could become the newest commodity market if it can overcome supply limits and green concerns as demand grows for renewable energy.

...utilities are burning biomass in ever greater amounts and now want price certainty and derivatives to manage their cost exposure in forward power sales, although European policymakers are mulling limits on subsidies for burning wood fuel given concerns about deforestation.

“It’s coming very fast,” said John Bingham, a director at consultants Hawkins Wright, referring to the development of an open market, and citing Eurostat data showing EU imports of wood pellets up 42% last year.

He saw increasing evidence of a larger scale market including big producers of wood pellets in Europe and North America and big intermediaries, such as Cargill and Gazprom, to balance large utility buyers. _FP

The article quoted above is looking only at wood pellet fuels for heat and power production. But wood is not the only biomass that can be pelletised. In order for all the various types of biomass pellets, tablets, briquettes, torrefaction products etc. to be featured on commodities markets, their quality characteristics will have to be well defined and standardised.

While converting biomass into combustion fuels is relatively uncomplicated, it is not the most economical or efficient use of the biomass. Converting biomass into high value chemicals returns a higher profit, and converting biomass into transportation fuels provides access to a wider marketplace. Here is one example of how biomass-derived sugars can be converted to chemicals and fuels:

(H2PO4)2 solid acid catalyst in an isobutanol-water (1.6:1/V:V) two-phase system to convert glucose to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF), an important green platform chemical with wide applications in the production of fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and liquid alkanes.

Although fructose can be converted to 5-HMF with high yield via acid-catalyzed dehydration, fructose is costly.

With its low cost and wide supply, the conversion of glucose to HMF has attracted the interests of researchers. For gaining a high 5-HMF yield, the choice of catalysts is very important.
—Zhuang et al. _GCC

As better methods of converting biomass to sugars come along, the cost of sugars will drop rapidly. At that point, industrial applications for the conversion of sugars into chemicals, fuels, plastics, and more... will expand in number very quickly.

ZeaChem, Inc., has signed a long-term binding term sheet with GreenWood Tree Farm Fund (GTFF), managed by GreenWood Resources (GWR), to supply hybrid poplar woody biomass for its first commercial cellulosic biorefinery.

The combination of GTFF’s existing tree farms in close proximity to the biorefinery, GWR’s world leadership in development and management of tree plantations, and ZeaChem’s highly efficient biorefinery technology will enable the supply of low-cost fermentable sugars used in the production of advanced biofuels and bio-based chemicals for years to come, it said. _BrighterEnergy

By. Al Fin




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